It’s long been the case that street art like graffiti can be recognized not just as doodling on a wall but as genuine art. And as with other places, Tokyo is a city full of all kinds of street art, both legal and otherwise. We set out to look for examples of the art on Tokyo’s walls that, like the work of Banksy, catches the eye but unlike graffiti can blend into the background and may not stand out if you don’t stop to notice it. Here’s a quick tour of some of the vibrant but modest art that transforms Tokyo’s streets…
No doubt painted as a kind of local project, these are pictures by kindergarten or elementary school students, located between Osaki and Gotanda stations on the JR Yamanote Line. The naive pleasures you get from the art by these youngsters remains charming to us even after we’ve left childhood long behind.
Originally there was lots of graffiti on this wall of a kindergarten in Toyama, Shinjuku, so this mural was created as a joint project by art college and other local students to put a stop to it. Unlike the art by the youngsters in our first example, you can tell here that the thinking behind the mural is more grown-up.
This is near Yoyogi Hachiman Station and was probably painted by local students. The main motif in the picture is a river that runs through the area and is themed around a famous nursery song. Saying that, we’ve no idea who the couple are supposed to be.
Not just paintings, we also found sculptures. This animal musician can be found inside a kindergarten in Meguro. Although he’s giving the people passing by a friendly enough look, because of the iron bars of the fence the rabbit appears to be in jail!
This is under a bridge at Ebisu Station and was painted by local college students after being commissioned by a regional government organization.
In front of Takadanobaba Station under the railway bridge is this Osamu Tezuka painting, the great manga artist who had an office in the area. The fantastic collage features all his characters.
Here a host of dog photos decorate a white wall at a building site in Nakameguro. The colors, though, have faded from being exposed to wind and rain for so long. Saying that, the whole thing gives off an unexpected nostalgia, even better than a regular photography exhibition!
The family from ‘Sazae-san’ decorates the wall of this elementary school in Ikenoue, Setagaya ward. This one also isn’t strictly speaking a wall painting but tiles. The original author used to live in Setagaya and this homage apparently has official approval.
Another tile art piece, here seemingly depicting a Mexican passing the night alone in the desert (but in Sumida ward). We’re not sure why this artwork is here but it imbues a mysterious warmth, soothing the loneliness you sometimes feel in the city.
This one is more of an autograph or shop sign rather than artwork, but it’s pretty unusual so we wanted to include it. Underneath the name of this shop in Daikanyama there is a picture by Nara Yoshitomo! We can’t vouch for its authenticity but it might just be original. This makes this shop sign a very valuable one indeed!
There are also some technically impressive murals. This one can be found along the railway tracks at Ryogoku in east Tokyo. The meticulous brushwork makes it seem like some sort of trick painting and it utilizes the location really well. Some people do say that the painting is so realistic that it’s a bit scary at night, though…